Code2040: Championing diversity in tech
Last month, internet pioneer and 2013 QEPrize winner Marc Andreessen donated $500,000 to promote diversity in tech. Marc and his wife Laura, who are known for their philanthropic commitments, donated the money to three non-profit organisations that focus on bridging the gender and diversity gap in the tech industry. The donated money largely came from Marc's QEPrize winnings. One of the organisations receiving a grant is Code2040, whose aim is to improve diversity in Silicon Valley.
We spoke to Laura Weidman Powers, co-founder of Code2040, about the organisation's present and future and how the donation is going to be used.
Laura is passionate and determined about Code2040's goals. "No one was really talking about diversity in tech so we didn’t really know if there was an appetite from the industry perspective. We quickly discovered that there was: people were almost desperate for a solution and the fact that someone was asking them about it was exciting for them, because they didn’t know what to do or where to go". The Fellows Program offered by Code2040 aims to place students from minority backgrounds in internships in high-profile companies in Silicon Valley. Laura is clear about their goal, for this not to be only a one-time internship, but an open door for minorities to build a career in the tech world. "We dove in with the Fellows Program. We started with 5 students and then grew the program to 18 and we’ll continue to grow, not only the Fellows Program. We want to keep seeing how the people in our program move in their career so they can be in great places in ten, twenty years.
A fantastic resource offered by Code2040 is the Applicant Playbook, to teach students how to act in a professional environment. "In many cases", Laura explains, "students have the technical abilities but they’re not presenting themselves in a way that the employers want. They’ve never done an interview in person. These are skills and experiences that all students could benefit from. "The results are a clear demonstration of the organisation's success, as Laura points out: "90% of our students got offered a job by the company they were working at, and 100% go on to work in tech. We want to keep working with our alumni, through an alumni programme, to do work beyond them getting their first offer, making sure they stay in the tech sector. We want people at the top to be diverse since executive diversity is really important."
The money donated by Marc and Laura will help the organisation expand further, and keep track of the students who are offered internships through an alumni network. "The grants are helping us think about how we create lifelong bonds with the students who go through the program so that it’s not just the 10 weeks that they spend with us over summer. We want them to think of themselves as leaders in the sector, both as technologists and also as people who think about inclusion". The racial pay gap is a big problem in the US. As an article in USA Today recently outlined, Hispanics earn on average $16,353 a year less than non-Hispanics, Asians make $8,146 less than whites and blacks make $3,656 less than whites. This reflects the disparity that still exists in the industry: "How we pay people is how we value them", says Laura. “We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go”.
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